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Trophic rewilding establishes a landscape of fear: Tasmanian devil introduction increases risk-sensitive foraging in a key prey species


Cunningham, CX and Johnson, CN and Hollings, T and Kreger, KM and Jones, ME, Trophic rewilding establishes a landscape of fear: Tasmanian devil introduction increases risk-sensitive foraging in a key prey species, Ecography, 42, (12) pp. 2053-2059. ISSN 0906-7590 (2019) [Refereed Article]

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© 2019 The Authors. Ecography published by John Wiley & Sons on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI: doi:10.1111/ecog.04635


Global declines of large carnivores have reduced the 'landscape of fear' that constrains the behaviour of other species. In recent years, active and passive trophic rewilding have potentially begun restoring these lost top-down controls. The Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harrisii has declined severely due to a novel transmissible cancer. In response to extinction fears, devils were introduced to the devil-free Maria Island, where their abundance rapidly increased. We tested how this introduction influenced risk-sensitive foraging in the common brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula, a major prey species for devils, using giving-up densities (GUDs). Before the introduction of devils, possum GUDs on Maria Island were indistinguishable from the long-diseased region of Tasmania, where devils have been rare since ∼2000. Three years after devil introduction, GUDs were 64% higher on Maria Island than the control region, demonstrating that after an initial period of high mortality, possums quickly adopted risk-sensitive foraging behaviours. Devil activity across Maria Island was variable, leading to a heterogeneous landscape of fear and highlighting that top predators must be at functional densities to elicit behavioural responses from prey. Our study provides strong evidence that top predators modify the behaviour of prey by instilling fear, causing rapid ecological change following recoveries.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:apex predator, giving-up densities, landscape of fear, predator–prey, trophic cascade, trophic rewilding, Tasmanian devil, feral cat, quoll, temporal partitioning
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Environmental management
Research Field:Conservation and biodiversity
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Cunningham, CX (Mr Calum Cunningham)
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
UTAS Author:Hollings, T (Miss Tracey Hollings)
UTAS Author:Kreger, KM (Miss Kaely Kreger)
UTAS Author:Jones, ME (Professor Menna Jones)
ID Code:136793
Year Published:2019
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (DP110103069)
Web of Science® Times Cited:6
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2020-01-17
Last Modified:2020-05-20
Downloads:10 View Download Statistics

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